"Couldn't get along without you, Barb," Bruce Springsteen said of Barbara Carr when inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 15 years ago.
Any Springsteen fan worth their salt knows his longtime manager and former producer, Jon Landau. Less visible (by choice) is Carr, partner in Jon Landau Management, who's worked with the small but mighty company since 1980.
Yet this veteran of Atlantic Records, Champion Entertainment and the London School of Economics is the unquestioned no. 2 in that four-person organization, overseeing many aspects of Springsteen's career, traveling with him on most dates of every tour, and leading his considerable charity efforts. In fact, she feels her own greatest achievement is the Kristen Ann Carr Fund for sarcoma research, named for her daughter who died from the disease in 1993 at the age of 21, which has raised more than $10 million.
Carr very rarely speaks to the press, but Billboard caught up with her in November in association with our Women In Music feature and event, where she received a long-overdue place on the list -- an honor she certainly didn't ask for, but didn't mind getting, either.
Billboard: What was your first job in the music business?
Barbara Carr: Working at Atlantic Records in publicity, part-time. I made five dollars an hour. My first husband, Patrick Carr, was a journalist, he mostly wrote about country music. One day somebody at Atlantic said to me, "You know every journalist" -- which I did, because back in those days there were so many parties -- "do you want to come in and work part time?" I had two little girls, so I said sure. I think it was the early '70s that I started there.
I didn't realize it at the time, but people tell me I sort of started tour publicity -- I mean, I didn't think of it like "Oh, I'm starting tour publicity!" But whatever bands we'd have on the road, I would see if maybe the Cleveland Plain Dealer or someone wanted to interview them ahead of time about their new record or their tour. We would have them do phoners, although that term wasn't invented yet. I was there for quite awhile and in many different capacities until eventually I became head of publicity.
If there was ever a school for learning the music business, it was working at Atlantic Records at that time. The people there were unbelievable: I learned so much working with people like [corporate publicity chief] Bob Rolontz and [GM] Jerry Greenberg and [Atlantic affiliate Rolling Stones Records president] Earl McGrath and others. I just loved it. It was very exciting and I will always feel very privileged having had my start there.
While I was at Atlantic, Dave [Marsh, journalist, Springsteen biographer and Carr’s husband] and Jon both lived in Boston, so I got to know both of them and we became very, very good friends. When Jon got an office he asked me if I wanted to use it its spare room, and then he asked me if I wanted to help him out. It was 1980 when I started working with Jon Landau Management.
Did you graduate from the London School of Economics?
No. I graduated from Marymount College, but I went for my junior year abroad to L.S.E. [in 1967, at the height of the student-demonstration era], which was a massive thing for me and a huge life-changer -- not so much the school or what I was learning as the whole experience. It was an incredible year -- it was very, very political and a very interesting time to be there. There was a huge sit-in at the L.S.E., I actually had my picture -- I think it was in Newsweek -- from it. It was a very formative thing to be very independent and become very political. I guess I'm still a little bit of a hippie from those days.
What was your big break?
Getting to work with Jon and so many of the people we manage. Obviously Bruce is the top, but we managed Shania Twain for quite a while through an incredible period of her career [during the 1990s and early 2000s]. She came to us and said "I'd like to go from being a country artist to being a pop artist," and that's what she got to become. [JLM’s] Jan Stabile and I must have gone to Australia with Shania four or five times in one year because that's where we first broke a pop single for her. Also Natalie Merchant when she first went solo [from 10,000 Maniacs in 1990], Train, Alejandro Escovedo.
Did you have any female role models in the business?
Not really -- there just weren't that many [early in my career]. But women like [Shore Fire president and Springsteen’s longtime publicist] Marilyn Laverty or [longtime Sting manager] Kathy Schenker or Susan Duncan Smith at Sony in Rome or Tracy Nurse for Sony International, women that I’ve been friends with for a long, long time -- because we can always talk to each other so, so honestly, I think we mentor back and forth. I definitely will go out of my way to help somebody younger, because there's a lot of younger women that I work with in various capacities, at Sony or [Shore Fire].
How much time do you spend on the road when Bruce is on tour?
Pretty much the whole time. It's very long, but there are some people who take to it more easily than others. I've always taken to the traveling very easily.
Part of it, I think, is that we moved around a lot when I was young. I was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and then my father, who was a geologist, started to work for the Magnolia Petroleum Company, which became Mobil Oil, and we moved to West Texas. Every 18 months, pretty much, my father would get a promotion and we would move again, so I lived in Wichita Falls, Abilene, Midland, [later] we moved back to New Jersey and then we moved to Canada. People would say to me, "How could you do that? How could you change schools all the time?" I think it made me very strong.
At home I tend to go to bed very early and get up very early, but on the road, I guess maybe the adrenaline keeps me going. I went into [New York] last week, Bruce did The Daily Show, and I thought "As long as I'm in the city, I'm just gonna keep going to DC for the Concert for Valor" [where Springsteen, Eminem, Metallica and Rihanna performed]. So I took the train to DC, got there at midnight, next day went to the venue, didn't come back till like 11, had drinks with a couple people in the bar and then got up and took a 7:30 a.m. flight home. I was like, "Oh, I've hardly slept and I'm still alive!" (Laughter)
Springsteen thanks Carr at 05:46
What specifically does your role in the company entail?
Because there's so few of us, I'm involved in everything.
Are you the main point person involved in setting up the tours?
No, because there's George Travis, who has been around since before me and Jon [joined Bruce], he’s really the person that sets up all the tours, in conjunction of course with me and Jon. Even though he is not part of JLM, he is a very huge part of our team.
There must be a lot of people like that for you to handle such a big artist with such a small staff?
It's big, but there's George and a couple of different road managers and then some of the band members have people that work for them. We've all known each other for so long that it's not hard to put the puzzle together.
How about other aspects of the business?
We administrate Bruce's publishing. There's somebody at [attorney Allen Grubman’s] that we deal with every single day about publishing. But we work consistently, and after awhile you can read an email, have a conversation, listen to a request and you kinda know what the outcome is gonna be.
The sheer volume of requests must be overwhelming.
It is a lot! But one great thing about working with Bruce is that he is always so interested in everything and very hands-on. He personally approves almost all... except for things like when somebody in Japan wants to use four lines of one song in a novel in Japanese or something like that. But most uses of his songs, we run by him. He just likes to know, it's interesting to him.
Are there things you feel like you or Landau Management have innovated that other companies in the industry have picked up?
This all comes from Bruce, of course, but I think how we deal with charities when we’re on tour. You can do a lot and help charities raise money while asking very little of the artist. I think a lot of people have looked to us for that.
But as an artist, and I hope other people understand this when they ask us, I think you have to concentrate on a couple of things: every artist can't be for the environment and global warming and hunger and fighting Ebola. If you try to do everything, you can't. So Bruce, having concentrated mostly on hunger, is why we have an incredible relationship with Bill Ayres at World Hunger and food banks all around the world.
And we actually had one man in Australia who was a big Bruce fan, the promoter brought him to one show, I met him, and then the promoter said, "He is so shy, but he just donated $350,000 to two of the food banks." And I'm thinking to myself, "You're gonna get to say hello to Bruce," but he was so shy. When Bruce was walking to the stage I said "This guy just --" and Bruce goes, "Hey, how ya doin’?" We went back earlier this year, and he gave $500,000. But when I tried to give him a laminate to come backstage, he said, "Thanks, Barb, for the laminate, it really helped with the parking, but I'm here with some of my friends and I don't want to bother you."
Your Kristen Ann Carr fund has raised more than $10 million for sarcoma research. That would seem like a full-time job in itself.
It's extremely hands-on -- it's still mostly run by people who were Kristen's friends and are very close to us: her sister Sasha, Michael Solomon, Ilyse Lesser and Alison Oscar. We never look at it like how much money we raise, we look at it more like, "What do we want to do next and how much money do we need for that?" We hold benefit events; we have very little overhead; we have a lot of volunteers. Once Kristen's group of friends got married and started having babies, a lot of them would have a little less time in a year so we hired an event planner but it's a small amount to pay her and it's invaluable.
Dave of course is so involved on the medical side; it seems like he knows every sarcoma doctor in the world. And even if somebody has some other kind of cancer, there are Kristen Ann Carr Fund Fellows in hospitals all over the U.S. and Canada that we can just call and ask for a referral. We have a small research lab. We have chairs in the Department of Surgery and in the Department of Pediatric Oncology and we give out grants to people at other hospitals.
We all miss Kristen every day, but she asked for this -- she said there needs to be more research and more help for people. And besides the [annual] event we have, which this year will be in May, we give a party for kids from the hospital at Sony Wonder [store in New York]. The kids bring all their family, their brothers and sisters. If Bruce is here he almost always comes, and he's like, "Maybe you should hang a 'Mr. Born In The USA' sign on me so people know who I am," because not only are the kids young but the parents are so young. It's a great evening.
How come you never talk to the press?
I feel like I'm just more the silent partner. I kind of know what I do and who I am.
Is there an instance that you can mention where you had to talk an artist into something?
The first thing that comes to mind is Shania Twain used to get extremely nervous before going on stage sometimes or performing at an awards show. It was always so unbelievable to me because she was so accomplished and so strong that when it first happened, I was almost be like "I can't even believe this." I would see that something is making her feel insecure, so we would just talk to her like, "Are you kidding? You're great." We'd just have to really bolster her up. She was always great.
Encouragement was the tack that worked?
Encouragement, yes, and staying very calm. I think that's part of all of our [approaches] -- from Bruce, Jon, me, Jan, Ali [office manager/charity coordinator Alison Oscar], we stay very calm. Even when your heart is beating really hard and you want to go "Aaaaah!," I think staying calm really helps.
What is it about your relationship with Jon that's enabled you to work together for so long?
I think it's so important that we were friends first and got along so well. And yet, as close as we are, it's really important to know when each other needs space and quiet. We have a lot of respect for each other. And another reason why those of us in the office work together so well is because I'm one of four sisters, Jan is one of four sisters and Ali is one of four sisters. Isn't that unbelievable? We really understand each other's moods and just like sisters, you have to accept all the ups and downs.
And what's enabled you to work with Bruce for so long?
I think the same thing, because I have so much respect for him and he is such an incredible person. One of the first things people ask when they realize I know him, "Is he really as nice as he seems like he is?" Yes, he is. He is very smart; he is a gentleman. Of course, he can get upset like everyone else -- when you have such close relationships over so many years, people have to be allowed to voice if they feel upset, or else it's just dysfunctional.
What’s the best advice you've ever gotten?
Here's a kind of funny one, because I can't think of the best career advice. Earl McGrath was a friend of [Atlantic cofounder] Ahmet Ertegun's, and he was a little bit of an art dealer. He would say things like, "Why are you buying a new couch when you could buy a painting? That couch is fine." His apartment was kinda like that -- it had these incredible contemporary paintings everywhere and hardly any furniture.
So, not that I've bought extremely expensive art, but I have always bought art, and I'm sitting in my kitchen and there are four great paintings in here. So maybe the best advice I’ve gotten is, "Buy art."